At 17 years old and on the verge of leaving home for college, Samuel Espinosa and his family’s fate was all but sealed: They were going to be homeless.
Throughout his teen years, Espinosa’s family struggled financially and would often find themselves in different housing situations from month to month and even week to week, he said.
The Espinosas became nomads in about 1998, when the landlord of their South Austin home kept jacking up the rent from month to month. With their options dwindling, the family moved into a motel over Christmas break in 2001 and then ran out of money, Espinosa said.
Had the family not found a long-term housing solution within that next year Espinosa said he would have probably turned down a scholarship to Yale University to help his mother and four younger siblings as they searched for a place to stay.
“Although Yale would’ve been hard to turn down, I wouldn’t just leave my family where they were,” he said.
But Yale became a viable option for Espinosa when his school, LBJ High School, called the Salvation Army of Austin to seek housing options for the Espinosa family.
With no room at the nonprofit’s downtown shelter to accommodate Espinosa’s seven-member family, the organization was able to step in nonetheless.
Through the Passages Program, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded collaboration of local service providers, Espinosa’s family secured subsidized low-income housing in their 78704 neighborhood. His family was able to pay 30 percent of its income to stay in subsidized housing for a certain number of months.
Passages is among a set of initiatives the Salvation Army of Austin has at its disposal to help provide shelter to families and individuals in need, said Social Services Director Kathleen Ridings.
“We think it’s important to invest in creating a safety net for families experiencing homelessness,” she said. “The potential impact on children when homelessness becomes a long-term situation can be really devastating.”
Other services include the Salvation Army of Austin’s downtown shelter and social service center, a 242-bed emergency shelter and resource center with social services available to men, women and children as well as the Austin Shelter for Women and Children.
Espinosa graduated from Yale in 2006. He is now working to ensure other families have access to the hand up his family received. He was appointed to the Salvation Army of Austin’s advisory board and attended his first meeting Sept. 15.
An individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence
How to help
Volunteer opportunities can be found at www.salvationarmyaustin.org and include activities such as:
- Ringing a bell at a Salvation Army Red Kettle during the holidays
- Working in its Angel Tree warehouse sorting toys for local children
- Volunteering for one of its fundraising events, such as Rock the Red Kettle ATX Concert (Nov. 20)
- Volunteering in its clothing closet
Donations can be made on the Salvation Army of Austin’s website. Donations made to the local organization benefit Austin-area residents.